Few parents argue against school obesity programs that educate children about healthier eating habits. But please don't assume that one-size-fits-all solutions work for every child out there.
Rising Obesity Rates
Given continuously rising rates of obesity among children, it's clear that things aren't quite what they should be. Children today enjoy less physical activity than those 30 years ago, while simultaneously consuming more calories.
Offering nutritional education programs under these circumstances makes quite a bit of sense. But what about those in the age range of 6 - 18 that already spend too much time worrying about what and how much they eat, how that will affect their dress size and whose entire self-image is centered on these facts?
A poll conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital asked parents about obesity prevention programs in their children's schools and the food-related behaviors and activities these children exhibit. Of all parents polled, 82% reported that there was at least one intervention program taking place at school, ranging from simple nutrition lessons to those combining these with weight and height measurements and physical activities.
The problem is that 30% of these parents also told the researchers about at least one behavior in their children that could be classified as an emerging eating disorder: eating dangerously low amounts, laboriously studying food labels, not eating with the family and spending excessive amounts of time on fitness.
The Big, The Thin, The Unhappy
The first thing coming to your mind here may be underweight girls, for whom (nearly) anorexic stars serve as role models. More often than not that is the case, as Tatianna recently highlighted in an article.
But these days the problem has spread further: in my experience more and more boys fall into the same trap. The number of rather thin male adolescents who ask me about how much more weight they have to lose to have a six-pack is already legion.
Last but not least, we also have those that are overweight and who due to school obesity programs may come to feel extreme dissatisfaction with themselves: what happens to children that can't manage their weight despite all these interventions?
A Child Is An Individual
Accordingly, Dr. David Rosen, one of the researchers behind the poll, commented that the effects these programs have need to be closely monitored:
When obesity interventions are put in place without understanding how they work and what the risks are, there can be unintended consequences. Well-intentioned efforts can go awry when children misinterpret the information they're given.
I agree with this assessment. It simply does not do to deploy these programs and hope for the best. Every child and every teenager has individual strengths and weaknesses and addressing them is a responsibility that needs to be shared between schools and parents.
Picture courtesy of André Mouraux.